They say everything is negotiable. Maybe that’s an overstatement, but so few people really take full advantage of that maxim. I’m not just talking about negotiating on price; in fact, I’m not going to address “haggling” at all. Instead, let’s discuss customer service with regards to past purchases.
In the 5+ years that I’ve been with my wife, she’s been amazed at the frequency with which I contact customer service, the seemingly cavalier conversations I have with them, and the sheer percentage of those that yield positive results. She had never considered taking action like this before we met, and I feel that many other people are likely of a similar mind as her.
To be clear, I’m not a nitpicker. I don’t seek out opportunities to call customer service. I don’t search high and low for defects to exploit. I’m not a complainer.
I don’t buy a sweater, only to whip out a magnifier to find a single pulled thread to rant about, and then demand compensation. In fact, ranting is the last thing I (or you) would ever want to do.
With that said, when life happens those things that I’ve spent hard-earned dollars on, I have no problem calling customer service to simply see if there’s anything they can do.
As such, I’ve assembled a few real-world examples from which I hope you can gain insights applicable to your own life, thereby saving a little bit o’ money and a whole lotta grief.
Example 1: Bed Bath and Beyond and “My Little Steamer”*
Circa 2014, I purchased a “My Little Steamer” from BBB at full price. This thing couldn’t have cost more than $30. After a few months (certainly under a year), it started shutting off on its own while still in use.
Instead of throwing the steamer out, I brought it back to customer service at the store, and they replaced it no questions asked without a receipt. Within one year of purchase, this transaction makes perfect sense. Faulty device quick, free replacement.
Two years later though, the same thing happened, and once again, I marched over to the store. Not only was I now outside of the standard 1 year most companies guarantee their products, but in the time that elapsed, the model I owned had been replaced with a newer version at a higher price.
After a quick chat with her manager, the nice person behind the counter said that while she was unable to process an outright exchange, they agreed to swap me a new model if I paid the $5 difference in price. A bargain.
It’s now been about 3 years since my last exchange, and it still works great. But you better believe that if and when it dies, I’ll hike back over to BBB to see if there’s anything they can do.
Lesson: Retailers often just want to make you happy and keep you as a customer. In many instances, they might eat the cost of the returned item (wholesale cost, mind you), and in other cases, they may get some sort of rebate from the manufacturer. Either way, they want to keep you as a customer.
*Editor’s note: As of May 2019, My Little Steamer has been discontinued after a series of burn-related lawsuits. Not good! Net-net, while there’s a valuable customer service lesson to be learned here, you may want to steer clear of the product itself…
Example 2: Bloomingdale’s ceramic platter
The first gift my wife and I received from our wedding registry was a ceramic platter from Bloomingdales. Shortly thereafter, we had a few people over to our apartment and laid out a nice little spread of cheese and crackers.
Afterwards during cleanup, I washed and placed it in the dish rack only to knock it with a chef’s knife moments later and chip off a solid 3” triangle from the corner.
The next day, I called customer service to let them know what happened and to see if there was anything they could do. I shared that the item was our first registry gift, that it came in perfect condition, but being a careless fiancé, I ruined it after a single use.
I didn’t lie, I didn’t blame them or UPS for careless packaging or delivery. I took ownership. I was honest, genuine and polite. And the result? As the item was no longer in stock, they sent us a Bloomingdale’s gift card for the full purchase price. They also let me keep the broken dish, which I was able to fix with a little epoxy. The crack is certainly obvious, which doesn’t thrill my wife, but it’s still a great piece, and we’ve since used it in a pinch.
Lesson: Be honest, genuine, and polite. It will get you far. Also, it didn’t matter that it was my fault the platter cracked; they remedied the situation all the same.
Example 3: Zegna sunglasses
I was gifted an expensive and totally badass pair of Ermenegildo Zegna shades, that were amazing but much pricier than I’d ever gift myself.
After about three years of use, while walking down the street, a screw came loose causing one of the lenses to fall out and onto the pavement.
I emailed customer service, and was asked for a receipt, which I obviously could not produce. In this instance, I felt that at the very least they’d offer me a discount on a replacement pair if not an all-out offer to fix them for free. Over the course of a lengthy email exchange, to my disappointment, I was informed that there was nothing they could do as the glasses were now four seasons old and I was without proof of purchase.
But… fortunately, the story did not end there. While I certainly didn’t feel entitled to a handout, I did feel like a repair (at my expense) or a discounted replacement pair was a logical resolution.
With customer service unable to help, I skipped the middle management, and went straight to the top. Googling the CEO, I deduced his email address, and forwarded him the entire email thread with new subject line “Customer service issue you might find interesting”.
Within twenty minutes, he responded and apologized. By the next day, I was contacted by their merchandizing manager who instructed me to select any pair from the website, which they’d then ship to me at no charge. I was stunned and elated.
What an amazing CEO. (A major shout-out to Zegna’s Robert Aldrich, btw!) If that’s the way he thinks about his customers, I can only imagine how holistically he thinks about his entire business. Needless to say, I’m sure you can guess where I’ll be shopping when in need of my next suit.
Lesson: There are a few here, obviously. Polite persistence is key. Don’t be annoying or demanding, but on the flipside, don’t be afraid to be intentional and specific.
Also, note that in many cases the “front lines” might not be empowered to get to a ‘yes’. Sure you can try the old “can I speak with your manager?” line, but even in the most polite way, it can come across as obnoxious.
Was reaching out to the CEO a little extreme? Maybe. But remember that no one has more problem-solving power than the top dog.
Oftentimes we feel that all sales are final. Full-stop. And that’s simply not always, or not often the case. Don’t be afraid to call customer service and see if there’s anything they can do. The results may just surprise you. And when that doesn’t work? Call up the CEO and tell them Brian sent you.